Eva Marloes

Review – Les Misérables, August 012 By Eva Marloes

All images credit Eva Marloes

Please note images featured in this review are from the rehearsal process

This fun and moving adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables by Cardiff-based theatre company August012 juxtaposes the battle of Waterloo and the Brexit Referendum. The intention behind the historical and literary parallel is to insert our daily lives into a wider perspective, to juggle the big and the small, the significant and insignificant, the past and the present. Les Mis, not the musical (thank God not the musical!), is a whirlpool of sound, words, and movement, expressing a sense of loss and futility, tempered by a feeling of compassion.

The scene begins with an account of the battle of Waterloo, cut by the recollections of Brits on holiday in Greece before the Referendum, and by the disbelief and shock at the result on the night. Away from formulaic narrative structure, Les Mis embraces a multilayered performance where music, words, and movement intersect and converge all around us. The music is spell-binding and plays a prominent role in guiding the audience into this tragi-comedy. It is a seductive and immersive experience that stirs the senses and brings awareness of the wider significance of Brexit.

The smell of grass, the thumping on the ground of the soldiers’ feet, broken by holiday-makers’ easy-going chatter and banter to the tune of Brazilian music in the sun-kissed beaches of Greece make the play at once seductive and moving. The charged atmosphere evoked by the battle is countered by the fun and ordinariness of the Referendum night. The parallel is sustained by local references to Cardiff’s roads and neighbourhoods. Napoleon is in Grangetown. Brussels is Ponty. Yet, the playfulness of Les Mis accentuates the brutality of Waterloo conveying a sense of awe, of something bigger than ourselves.

This heartfelt, engaging, ironic and exciting production articulates the current confusion, exhaustion, and ridiculousness of the aftermath of the Referendum. We don’t know what is going on. Les Mis has no comforting thesis, no tidy narrative, no solution, but a deliberate intention to throw off course.

At a time when over a million people have marched for a referendum on the deal, nearly six millions have signed a petition to revoke art.50, and when Parliament has rejected May’s deal and any other alternative, Les Mis captures the never-ending saga, the incomprehensible going around in circles, and the complexity of the present situation. Brexit has severe repercussions for peace in Northern Ireland, for EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU, for Europe, and for Britain; yet its significance is drowned out in the daily drama deprived of substance. In all this, Les Mis wants its audience to wake up to the historical significance of our daily lives.

The play includes Nicola Sturgeon’s address to European nationals living in Scotland. In the endless noise produced by politicians on Brexit, European nationals in Britain are often forgotten and, at times, dismissed as ‘bargaining chips.’ Director Mathilde Lopez is a French-Spanish North African, who has lived and worked in Britain for 20 years and has a family with British composer/dj John Norton. Matteo Marfoglia, who choreographs the dancers, is an Italian national who has worked in the Netherlands and has been living in Wales for the past six years. For both Mathilde and Matteo the result of the Referendum brought the pain of exclusion. All of a sudden, their identity, status, and very presence in Britain were questioned.

Les Mis gives a voice to that sense of disorienting loss Europeans felt. There is no anger, no preaching, no pedantic history lecture. The political and philosophical rhetoric about the EU at the end is perhaps not as punchy and inspirational as it could have been, but it is genuine and moving. It gives voice to those in Britain who feel European and part of Europe and have been dismissed by mainstream media and politics not just for the past three years, but for decades. What is missing are perhaps the voices of  British politicians and thinkers who have dreamed of Europe, like John Stuart Mill, who joined Victor Hugo at the Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom in Geneva in 1867, where peace required a United States of Europe. I personally would have liked the inclusion of Hugos’ dream of a united Europe at the Peace Congress in Paris, in 1849.

‘A day will come when your arms will fall even from your hands! A day will come when war will seem as absurd and impossible between Paris and London, between Petersburg and Berlin, between Vienna and Turin, as it would be impossible and would seem absurd today between Rouen and Amiens, between Boston and Philadelphia. … A day will come when the only fields of battle will be markets opening up to trade and minds opening up to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and the bombs will be replaced by votes, by the universal suffrage of the peoples, by the venerable arbitration of a great sovereign senate’ 

Les Mis speaks of the hurt of those of us who feel deprived of Europe. Europe is no longer a dream, but a reality. There is an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Les Mis appeals to faith, hope, and love. In opposition to the outside political message of exercising control and erecting borders, Les Mis, fruit of artists with diverse cultural backgrounds and political stances, celebrates friendship across divides. It calls on all of us to show compassion to one another.

What would Hugo make of this take on his work and, perhaps more crucially, what would he make of his own dream of a United States of Europe? He might be confused and excited to see that a Union of European countries has taken shape. He might feel inspired and hopeful that it is not just a philosophical, political, or religious idea, but a reality, clumsy and complex, but one that is increasingly in people’s hearts. This production of Les Mis, with its exuberant rhythms, poignant words, and passionate movements, lets us hear the heart of Europe beating.

Review – Open Rehearsal, Les Misérables, August 012 By Eva Marloes

Please note this is a review of an open rehearsal which took place at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

All images credit Jorge Lizalde

This fun and moving adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables by Cardiff-based theatre company August012 juxtaposes the battle of Waterloo and the Brexit Referendum. The intention behind the historical and literary parallel is to insert our daily lives into a wider perspective, to juggle the big and the small, the significant and insignificant, the past and the present. Les Mis, not the musical (thank God not the musical!), is a whirlpool of sound, words, and movement, from which emerge a sense of loss and futility, an awareness of something different beginning in a Britain still hangovered from the Referendum, and compassion.

The scene begins with an account of the battle of Waterloo, cut by the recollections of Brits on holiday in Greece before the Referendum, and by the disbelief and shock at the result on the night. Away from formulaic narrative structure, Les Mis embraces a multilayered performance where music, words, and movement intersect and converge all around us. The music is spell-binding and plays a prominent role in guiding the audience into this tragi-comedy. It is a seductive and immersive experience that stirs the senses and brings awareness of wider significance.

The smell of grass, the thumping on the ground of the soldiers’ feet, broken by holiday-makers’ easy-going chatter and banter to the tune of Brazilian music in the sun-kissed beaches of Greece make the play at once seductive and moving. The charged atmosphere evoked by the battle is countered by the fun and ordinariness of the Referendum night. The parallel is sustained by local references to Cardiff’s roads and neighbourhoods. Napoleon is in Grangetown. Brussels is Ponty. Yet, the playfulness of Les Mis accentuates the brutality of Waterloo conveying a sense of awe, of something bigger than ourselves.

This heartfelt, engaging, ironic and exciting production articulates the current confusion, exhaustion, and ridiculousness of the aftermath of the Referendum. We don’t know what is going on. There is no neat comforting thesis, no tidy narrative, no solution, but a deliberate intention to throw off course. Les Mis plays with our confusion and our Brexit fatigue.

At a time when over a million people have marched for a referendum on the deal, over five million have signed a petition to revoke Article 50, and when Parliament keeps voting down May’s deal, Les Mis captures the never-ending saga, the incomprehensible going around in circles, and the complexity of the present situation. Brexit has severe repercussions for peace in Northern Ireland, for EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU, for Europe, and for Britain; yet its significance is drowned out in the daily drama deprived of substance. In all this, Les Mis wants its audience to wake up to the historical significance of our daily lives.

The play includes Nicola Sturgeon’s address to European nationals living in Scotland. In the endless noise produced by politicians on Brexit, European nationals in Britain are often forgotten and, at times, dismissed as ‘bargaining chips.’ Director Mathilde Lopez is a French-Spanish North African, who has lived and worked in Britain for 20 years and has a family with British composer John Norton. Matteo Marfoglia, who choreographs the dancers, is an Italian national who has worked in the Netherlands and has been living in Wales for the past six years. For both Mathilde and Matteo the result of the Referendum brought the pain of exclusion. All of a sudden, their identity, status, and very presence in Britain were questioned.

Les Mis gives a voice to that sense of disorienting loss Europeans felt. There is no anger, no preaching, no pedantic history lecture. The political and philosophical rhetoric at the end is perhaps not as punchy and inspirational as it could have been, but it is genuine and moving. There is an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Les Mis appeals to faith, hope, and love. In opposition to the outside political message of exercising control and erecting borders, Les Mis, fruit of artists with diverse cultural backgrounds and political stances, celebrates friendship across divides. It calls on all of us to show compassion to one another.

What would Hugo make of this take on his work and, perhaps more crucially, what would he make of his own dream of a United States of Europe? He might be confused and excited to see that a Union of European countries has taken shape. He might feel inspired and hopeful that it is not just a philosophical, political, or religious idea, but a reality, clumsy and complex, but one that is increasingly in people’s hearts. This production of Les Mis, with its exuberant rhythms, poignant words, and passionate movements, lets us hear the heart of Europe beating.

Les Mis can be seen at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

Behind the Curtains of Les Misérables By Eva Marloes

Up the ramps of steep metal stairs, in a room in the Loft, outside of the main building of Chaptert Arts Centre, the theatrical company August012 are rehearsing for their unique take on Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. The music begins. It’s a military tune. It’s 1815, the battle of Waterloo. The fighting, the casualties, the hollow victory. Then, at a stroke, it’s 2016, in Cardiff, the night of the EU Referendum. The battle of Waterloo and the battle of Brexit come together through a meeting and clashing of sounds, words, music, and dance making for an immersive sensory experience.

Rehearsal images credit Jorge Lizalde

The tragedy and horror of Waterloo is juxtaposed with the carefree and indulgent pleasure of holiday-makers in 2016 ahead of the Referendum and the comic coming to terms with the result. It is a kind of estrangement that seeks to bring awareness of the historical implications of Brexit through rhythm and fun. All the pieces, the description of the battle, the drums, the music, a man chocking on a Dorito, Farage, and soldier-dancers, come together with perfect timing. The creativity fuelling Les Mis comes from the collaboration of Director Mathilde Lopez, Choreographer Matteo Marfoglia, and Composers John Norton and Branwen Munn, the latter working from West Wales.

The coming together of French-Spanish, Italian, and Welsh talent with diverse national and cultural backgrounds makes gives an extra dimension to the careful multi-layered assembling of sound, words, and movement. It is the collaborative and supportive nature of these relationships that stands out as I watch the rehearsals. There is no hierarchy, no instructions, no neat division of labour, but a coming together to harness the talents and creativity of one another. Mathilde says, ‘We can do that,’ not ‘Can you do that?’ She is not imparting instructions, she listens to others and makes suggestions. The work emerges from this shared effort and fun. They’re working hard but they’re also having fun.

The atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly that I wonder how a comment from me might be received. I comment and I’m struck by Carwyn, one of the actors, turning to me and nodding. It is a listening environment, where each member of the company can make suggestions and is listened to. John Norton, the composer/DJ, is surprised I’m surprised. ‘This is theatre,’ he tells me, ‘If you want control, don’t do it.’ Unpredictable, brittle, never finished, theatre is always in the making. Precision is impossible, flexibility is key.

Mathilde likes the challenge that music and movement present to her as a theatrical director. She needs to limit herself to give space to John and Matteo. Her listening and collaborative frame of mind includes listening to actors and non-actors who participate in the production. When auditioning for the play, Mathilde asked them what they were doing on the night of the Referendum. The piecing together of different perspectives and experiences reinforces the nature of this production of Les Mis where different worlds coexist.

Choreographer Matteo Marfoglia tells me that the idea is to have two worlds side by side in the same space: the world of the actors and the world of the dancers. The two worlds do not interact. The dancers and the actors are on different journeys. The dancers, as soldiers, evoke with their movements and sounds the tragic sense of the historical dimension of both Waterloo and Brexit. Actors and dancers come in and out of the space interweaving the present with the past, connecting and disconnecting history with our daily lives.

Les Mis speaks to our own reality. It is this sense of the real and dance as a way to communicate real life that brought Matteo to Wales. Classically trained, Matteo first moved to Amsterdam and Rotterdam to become a contemporary dancer and, six years ago, he came to Wales to be part of the National Company Wales. He left classical ballet because it did not meet his thirst for something more authentic to human experience. He believes that contemporary dance allows the individual expression of emotions to come to the fore.

Matteo is training to become a ‘Gaga’ dance teacher. Gaga dance has been developed by Israeli dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharin. At its core, Gaga dance is about embodying the inward emotions of the dancer and how they connect with other dancers. The individuality of the dancer is expressed outward flowing into the shared consciousness of the group. ‘We feel the same emotions but we do so differently,’ Matteo explains, ‘We’re all connected through an emotion but this emotion is expressed in one’s unique and individual way.’

The emotional dimension of Les Mis is a pervasive sense of loss and futility contrasted with seductive pleasure and a hangovered awakening to the aftermath of the Referendum. As European nationals, Matteo and Mathilde experienced a deep sense of loss after the Referendum. They felt ‘under attack,’ as Matteo puts it. All of a sudden, they became foreigners, their presence questioned. Mathilde, who has been living in Britain for 20 years, is married to John and has British children who speak Welsh, felt the pain of exclusion, of being told to ‘go back home.’ She never needed to be formally British, she was part of British society, then Brexit struck.

Brexit has shown that being foreign is an identity that stays with you no matter how long you live in your ‘adoptive’ country, no matter of many changes you make, no matter how much you absorb of the local culture. The ‘in-betweeness’ that has characterised Mathilde’s life became problematic with Brexit. Europe allowed overlapping identities that don’t stop at national borders. Europe, for Mathilde, is the wider project of togetherness. It is complicated and Europe often does not live up to the dream. The way the EU functions right now doesn’t work for many countries, she tells me, but they don’t question being part of it. ‘It’s like moaning at your parents,’ Mathilde says, ‘you moan, you don’t kill them.’

The vote brought sadness to Mathilde and also anger. She found that anger was more ‘socially acceptable’ than sadness because it makes one look strong, but she found it tiring. She needed compassion. She plunged into reading classics, such as Steinbeck, Camus, and Hugo. Classics were her way to get her head around what had just happened and avoid a reductive perspective. ‘When you’re angry at the Americans, you read Steinbeck, when you’re angry at Italians, you read Dante,’ Mathilde explains. Literary classics allow her to go beyond the narrow contingencies of today’s events, put things in perspective, and nourish compassion.

For Mathilde, Les Mis is a personal journey from sadness and anger to compassion. Compassion is in the ability to listen to one another, work together, and produce a work that is accessible to all.‘Will my grandmother get it?’ Mathilde asks herself when writing. She wants something accessible, not limited to regular theatre-goers. She wants to be open to others, wherever they come from culturally, socially, and, of course, politically. Some members of the production voted Leave.

‘It is our duty to be compassionate,’ says Mathilde, ‘to find strength in accepting defeat, not despair.’ It is compassion that allows to overcome division, to appreciate human complexity, and find strength in togetherness. Mathilde finds compassion in being supported by Chapter Arts Centre, in working together with actors, non-actors, and dance students, getting inspiration from all.

Mathilde, Matteo, and John tell me working together requires humility, respect, and trust. As John tells me, ‘you need to sense the time when to follow someone else’s lead, when to defend one’s position, and when to let go of it.’ You need to abandon the need to take control. This deeply collaborative and inclusive production of Les Mis is fruit of mutual trust and compassion. It is what the UK needs now.